Goodbye to the Godfather of Go-Go

D.C.'s Chuck Brown has died at the age of 75, but his legacy -- a city's signature art form -- lives on.

Astrid Riecken for the Washington Post
Astrid Riecken for the Washington Post

Chuck taught D.C. natives to take those charred ruins of the civil rights movement in riot-blackened places like U Street and use them to make art. Not the kind of art that crosses over onto pop-music charts or that gets co-opted by multinational entertainment companies or even gets an NEA grant, but, nonetheless, the kind that generations of black Washingtonians have used for fellowship.

Together with his D.C. fans, Chuck Brown lit the creative spark for the go-go industry — what remains to this day a multimillion-dollar, almost entirely black-owned business, filled with musicians, promoters, graphic designers, security, bands, managers, recording studios, bootleggers, Web developers, fashion designers and radio personalities. He talked about finding that spark in the introduction to the 2007 album, Were About the Business:

I just had this feeling, that some of that old spiritual church music that we used to play in my church when I was a little boy. Real fast. You know what Im saying? I heard Grover Washington come out with Mr. Magic. He had that beat, only it was slower, groovy. It was slower, it wasnt hyped up like church music. I said, they used to play that at my church!

So I decided to try it and started playing Mr. Magic. From there, we started dropping down into the percussion. The same feeling I had with [the local band] Los Latinos, I took the same percussion with me. So we started dropping that percussion and we had other ideas. The audience liked it. They liked the call and response. They liked the participation. You know, the band participating with the audience. And I was searching for a sound for the town …